Reserpine in an eventing horse?
The FEI’s banned substances lists provides a comprehensive rundown of drugs from which horses could derive some competitive advantage, but it is hard to imagine that reserpine would deliver any benefit to a top-level eventing horse.
On the most basic level, it just makes no sense.
The horse Clifton Promise, on whom New Zealander Jonathan “Jock” Paget won the Burghley International Horse Trial in September, tested positive for the drug after his victory, it was revealed yesterday.
Paget has requested a test on the B sample, as has Australian Kevin McNab, whose Burghley mount, Clifton Pinot, also tested positive for the drug.
Reserpine is a naturally occurring substance used for centuries in herbal medicine in India. The plant extract is used to control blood pressure in humans and is licensed for use as a long-acting sedative in horses.
Most horse owners will know reserpine as the injectable drug, Rakelin.
Paget and his connections say, at this stage, they have no idea how it came to be in Clifton Promise’s system.
That should come as no surprise, as it does not make any sense whatsoever to use this drug on a top-level eventing horse.
Surely, the only discipline in which such a drug could be of benefit in competition is in the dressage phase, which always occurs first in eventing. Ideally, a dressage horse should present as calm and collected.
One can see how a sedative would potentially be of benefit. But why on earth would anyone use a long-acting sedative if that was their purpose?
Are we expected to believe that a horse on a long-acting sedative could then fire up enough on the show-jumping and cross-country stages to win a competition of the calibre of Burghley?
The drug is known to take days to reach full effect and is recognised as having subtle sedating effects for many days after the last injection.
It is also known to have a long and variable withdrawal period, which hardly makes it the ideal candidate for such a use.
So, what of longer-term use? This makes no sense, either. It seems inconceivable that a horse on long-term sedation could train sufficiently well to get up to win the likes of Burghley.
As Equestrian Sports New Zealand chief executive Jim Ellis told Horsetalk: “It is not a substance you would expect to see in any horse that is currently performing.”
The test result will have come as shattering news to Surrey-based Paget, a young and rising star on the eventing circuit.
Let us hope he finds some answers.